Former Queensland Origin star Chris Flannery has backed the Queensland Rugby League's move to introduce a statewide Under 20s competition in 2017 ahead of the expected dissolution of the National Youth Competition in 2018.
The QRL announced on Monday that an eight-week Under 20s competition of teams aligned with Intrust Super Cup clubs would be conducted at the start of the season with a shortened FOGS Colts Challenge competition to follow for teams in Queensland's south-east. The Cyril Connell Cup Under 16 competition will cease to exist with the 16s to take part in the State Junior Championships on the Sunshine Coast.
As CEO of the Sunshine Coast Falcons, Flannery has witnessed the benefits this year of Under 20s teams being aligned with state Cup franchises with the majority of the Storm's Holden Cup squad residing and playing their home games on the Sunshine Coast.
Flannery himself moved to Sydney from the Sunshine Coast as a teenager to play for the Roosters before progressing to reserve grade where at 19 years of age, he was playing alongside seasoned first-graders such as Quentin Pongia and against other hardened campaigners.
By having a closer association with state Cup clubs in both Queensland and New South Wales in future, Flannery has no doubt that it will create a more clearly defined pathway for the elite youngsters emerging in the game.
"I was playing with guys like Quentin Pongia who was coming back from injury and a really high calibre of player in reserve grade, whether they were there for injury or whatever," Flannery told NRL.com.
"We were playing on a weekly basis against guys who had played heaps of NRL so I learnt pretty fast, and you had to.
"Now with the Under 20s competition a lot of players stay in that Under 20s competition for a lot longer than what I'd prefer to see.
"They need to be playing against men to develop as quickly as possible."